Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Truth About Charters

School turnarounds prompt community backlash

Drastic school turnarounds prompt community backlash, rash of civil rights complaints

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The federal government's push for drastic reforms at chronically low achieving schools has led to takeovers by charter operators, overhauls of staff and curriculum, and even school shutdowns across the country.
It's also generated a growing backlash among the mostly low-income, minority communities where some see the reforms as not only disruptive in struggling neighborhoods, but also as civil rights violations since turnaround efforts primarily affect black and Latino students.
"Our concern is that these reforms have further destabilized our communities," said Jitu Brown, education organizer of Chicago's Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization. "It's clear there's a different set of rules for African-American and Latino children than for their white counterparts."
The U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office has opened investigations into 33 complaints from parents and community members, representing 29 school districts ranging from big city systems such as Chicago, Detroit and Washington D.C. to smaller cities including Wichita and Ambler, Penn., said spokesman Daren Briscoe. Two additional complaints are under evaluation, and more cities, includingLos Angeles, are preparing their filings.
Last week, Secretary Arne Duncan fielded complaints at a public forum in Washington. The forum was attended by some 250 people who boarded buses, vans and planes from around the country to demand a moratorium on school closings and present a reform model that calls for more community input, among other items.
The recurrent theme is that communities are fed up with substandard education, but want solutions that will not create upheaval at the schools, which are often seen as pillars of stability in neighborhoods where social fabric is fragile.
Instead of focusing on dramatically changing the structure of a school, officials should invest in improving teaching, learning, equipment, and community engagement, which happens more often at schools in white, affluent neighborhoods, Brown said.
"But the response of the school district is to throw a grenade into our schools," Brown said.
Reformers say civil rights complaints are misguided because school failure disproportionately impacts minorities in the first place. Turnarounds are efforts to improve that, said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank.
However, he noted that turnarounds are often a "Band-Aid solution. Most of the turnarounds aren't going to succeed because the school continues to exist in a dysfunctional school system. Radical change at the district may be what's needed."
Federal officials said they are open to working with communities to lessen the impact of turnarounds.
"On the ground, these policies can have an impact we don't see," Briscoe said. "But there's no promise that we'll be able to satisfy all people."
Overhauling the nation's 5,000 lowest-performing schools is a cornerstone of the Obama administration's education policy. To do that, the federal government revamped the existing School Improvement Grant program, boosting it from a $125 million annual initiative in 2007 to $535 million for the current school year.
Under the renewed program, which launched in 2010 with a onetime $3.5 billion infusion, districts receive grants to institute one of four school jumpstart models. They can turn the school over to a charter or other operator, replace at least half of the staff and principal, transform the school with a new principal and learning strategy, or simply close the school. Improvement schools can receive up to $2 million annually for three years.
Results have been mixed.
In Chicago, where the nation's third largest school system has undertaken one of the more extensive turnaround programs, a study of 36 schools by the University of Chicago found some improvement in academic achievement in elementary and middle schools but not until the second or third year of either a principal or staff replacement or a charter conversion.
"They're closing the gap but it's taking some time to do so," said Marisa de la Torre, who directed the study.
With high schools, researchers did not have academic data to parse, so instead looked at attendance rates, which are often a good indicator of performance, de la Torre said. Attendance rates improved in the first year of a turnaround, but then reverted to pre-turnaround rates. "We can't really say if the glass is half full or half empty," de la Torre said.
A study released last May found graduation rates and college-prep course participation increased dramatically at a Los Angeles high school in the Watts section taken over by charter Green Dot Public Schools in 2008. The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing called the new Locke High School "an impressive success story in many ways," but noted overall achievement remains low.
To boost academic performance, Green Dot now plans to revamp its ninth-grade curriculum to offer more remedial help and open a middle school to better prepare kids for high school.
With no guarantee that turnarounds produce solid results quickly, some question whether drastic reform is worth the disruption, and whether less radical changes could work as well given adequate time and funding.
"We take issue with experimental reforms such as these when it is only children of color who are the subject of the experiment and especially when the experiment has already failed," wrote Jonathan Stith of Empower DC in his federal complaint about Washington D.C. schools.
Staff replacements have proven especially problematic at schools where teachers have to reapply for their jobs. Many don't reapply out of resentment and it's hard to find experienced teachers who want to work in an urban classroom.
A study by the National Education Policy Center found that in turnaround schools in Louisville, Ken., 40 percent of teachers were fresh out of college. Other reformed schools have had to start off with substitutes.
"Teachers are like their surrogate parents," said Christina Lewis, a special education teacher atCrenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where teachers will have to reapply for jobs in the fall when the school is converted to a magnet. "I'm so afraid that teachers who have put their hearts and souls into their jobs won't return next year. We just need stability and resources."
Experts also note that impoverished children often rely on schools for meals, positive role models, and mentors for personal issues, as well as education. Trust built with familiar faces in the school community gets severed by drastic reforms, said John Rogers, director at the University of California Los Angeles' Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
Several students at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where teachers must reapply for their jobs when the school is converted to a magnet program next fall, said it was disconcerting not to know who or what to expect.
"We have a lot of kids in foster care. Their lives are changing all the time," said Crenshaw student Anita Parker. "We have teachers who ask me if I need to talk. We have teachers who care about us."
The prospect of a civil rights complaint does not faze Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who has several high schools on his turnaround list. For Deasy, the real civil rights issue is that these schools have been allowed to fail for so long.
Crenshaw High School, the turnaround that is spurring community advocates to file the complaint, is the lowest performing school in the nation's second-largest system, a fact that Deasy called "immoral" at a recent school board meeting.
Just three percent of students are proficient in math and 17 percent in reading. Just 37 percent of students attend school 96 percent of the time. Just half of the class of 2012 graduated.
"Students aren't learning. Students aren't graduating," he said. "The purpose of this decision is to make sure Crenshaw gets dramatically and fundamentally better."
School board member Marguerite P. LaMotte, the board's only black member who represents the Crenshaw area, said she was angry that every effort to reform Crenshaw had gone nowhere and civil rights was about improving the school: "We have got to change something at Crenshaw for the better."

The Truth About Charters


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Power of Language

Why I am no longer a teacher… but an educator.

educate |ˈejəˌkāt|

verb [ trans. ] (often be educated)

give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone, esp. a child), typically at a school or university : she was educated at a boarding school.

ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin educat- ‘led out,from the verb educare, related to educere ‘lead out’ (see educe ).

teacher |ˈtē ch ər|


a person who teaches, esp. in a school.

dailycensored.com http://dailycensored.com/2011/05/27/how -do-teachers-matter-not-as-cause-agents-but-as-learning-opportunities/

How Do Teachers Matter? Not as Cause Agents But as

Learning Opportunities

Written by Paul Thomas

Lost in the exaggerated claims of “bad” teachers being at the core of all that ails education and the

concurrent calls for greater teacher accountability, often linked to student test scores, is a careful

consideration of why we have universal public education in a free society and what the role of the teacher is

within that purpose.

Debates about teacher quality and education reform are doomed to fail if we do not first place both within our

purposes for and beliefs about education, human nature, and our culture. Universal public education, in its

essence, must rest upon a commitment to human agency and autonomy as well as a full and complex faith in

and support for democratic principles.

Once we embrace human agency and autonomy–everyone is born equal, including the rights of life, liberty,

and the pursuit of happiness–we have chosen a definition of “education” that rejects indoctrination and

enculturation, although these two purposes have dominated how and why our schools have functioned for

over a century. A people who believe in individual freedom must cherish the empowerment of every human

mind. To distrust human autonomy is to reject freedom and to call for some authority to determine the lives

of others–and thus either to diminish some people’s access to education or to reduce a system of schooling

to oppression through indoctrination and enculturation.

If, then, we are truly a people who believe in human freedom and thus appreciate the role of universal public

education as an opportunity for individual empowerment, agency, and autonomy, we must acknowledge the

complex and important role of a teacher within a commitment to individual freedom and democracy.

Let me clarify here that I have been a teacher from the middle school level through graduate education for

27 years now. In that time, I have taught thousands of students of nearly every possible ability, background,

and level of commitment. For the record, I have not caused a single one of those students to learn.

Teachers in an education system designed for a free society and people are not cause agents but

mechanisms for designing, providing, and enhancing learning experiences for every student regardless of

that student’s station in life. Ultimately, a student who is free is the final determinant of whether or not

learning occurs–as long as that student’s life allows that choice.

Calls for teacher accountability tied to student outcomes, such as tests, misrepresent the ethical role of a

teacher in a free society. Few people take the time to consider that viewing a teacher as a cause agent

(holding a teacher accountable for the behavior of another free human) and viewing learning as the mere

transmission of knowledge from a teacher-authority to a passive class of students are antithetical to our

beliefs in individual freedom and democracy.

Can a teacher through coercion, threat, bribe, or force of personality demand from a student a behavior that

appears to match a learning outcome? Of course.

But that is indoctrination/enculturation–not education. It denies the dignity and humanity of the teacher and

the student; it rejects the sacred faith in individual freedom and democratic principles.

Teachers of free people cannot and should not cause learning to happen; thus, we must focus our concern

for teacher quality exclusively on the characteristics of that teacher and the quality of the learning

opportunities that teacher provides. [As well, the pursuit of teacher quality must be situated appropriately in

the larger picture of what influences impact student learning, acknowledging that the quality of the teacher is

a small percentage (about 14%-33%) of those influences that are dominated by factors beyond the walls and

control of the teacher or the school.]

So, how do teachers matter, and how should we seek higher quality teachers, holding them accountable for

providing every child access to the learning opportunities all humans deserve at birth?

Teachers must possess and constantly enhance their knowledge base–the content they teach and their

pedagogy–by being life-long learners in formal classroom settings, such as graduate courses and degrees,

and by being scholars, actively engaged with the fields that they teach (the first is typical of K-12 educators

and the latter, of professors, but both should be elements of all teachers).

Teachers must be reflective and transparent practitioners of their craft, and here is a key element of the

debate about teacher quality that we are consistently failing to recognize. Teacher quality is not revealed in

student outcomes; in fact, student outcomes tend to mask and distort the quality and role of the teacher.

Teacher quality is best revealed in the act of teaching itself–although complicated and time consuming to

capture and evaluate, the act of teaching is the single best evidence of the opportunities a teacher provides

for all students. And those opportunities are the only rightful things for which teachers can and should be

held accountable because it is the act of teaching and creating learning opportunities that is within the

teacher’s power to control (although our bureaucratic approach to schooling has historically denied teachers

the exact autonomy that would support that accountability).

Rightful accountability must be limited to that which a person controls–all other accountability is unethical,

oppressive, and corrosive.

Yes, every child deserves a high quality teacher, one who is in a constant process of growth as a teacher

and not fixed at the moment of attaining a prescribed quality or goal. One truism that should guide how we

evaluate teacher quality is seeking ways to determine the difference between a teacher who teaches one

year twenty times and a teacher who teaches twenty years, informed by an equal commitment to being a


Focusing on prescriptive and external data points (student test scores) works to insure that we create and

reward the worst sort of teachers–fixed at a point in their growth, teaching one year twenty times. Teacher

accountability linked to student outcomes reduces teacher quality to raising test scores–a misleading and

minimal expectation for teacher quality in a free society.

Teacher quality matters, and we can identify and foster better teachers. But that process, if we truly value

individual freedom and democracy, must exist in a spirit of community and with a commitment to human

dignity and empowerment–for both teachers and students.

A system of self-evaluation, peer-evaluation, and supervisor-based evaluation–designed to support and not

punish or reward–that addresses teacher competence (content and pedagogy) and, above all else, the

quality of the educational opportunities offered to students regardless of their background is the sort of

teacher accountability and education reform we must seek.

However, any commitment to teacher quality and education reform for individual freedom and democracy will

not produce the results we seek for our children if we continue to see raising teacher and school quality as a

silver bullet and as an isolated avenue to social reform. Social reform must precede or occur simultaneously

with proper care for teacher quality or we will persist in our greatest failure of all–pointing an accusatory

finger at teachers and schools while the rest of society crumbles over our shoulders.

Finally, while clichés can fail us, let’s consider and revise a familiar one as we face teacher quality:

You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink. And if you do find a way to force the horse to drink,

and the horses die from drinking poisoned water, it may be time to stop focusing on who’s leading the horse

and attend to the source of the poisoned water.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

When did it get so complicated?

This is my pedagogical model for teaching. Be authentic, and engaging. Be both a learner and teacher.

And never ever forget to “get to know” your student’s.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teacher I Need You

"All students are rude disengaged lazy.” Natalie Munroe

This comment on her blog by a high school English language arts teacher created a virtual flurry. The water cooler wag went from executive boardrooms to teacher lounges. She was suspended from her job (with pay) while her school district investigated. A debate ensued centering on two themes: 1.) That her comments were unprofessional 2.) That her censure by the board violated her right to free speech

Natalie will have her provoked fifteen minutes of fame. The debate will quiet. To me though the essential issue will sit under a rock, still unexamined. The important question (a key concept in learning theory) has not been addressed.

Natalie Munroe asked no question. She stated an opinion, or rather assigned blame. She judged and chastised the individuals to whom she is obliged not only as an educator but as a citizen. Natalie by her action volunteered to be sacrificial lamb to a world that fears for its children and their futures.

(We are all so overwhelmed that we protect ourselves with ennui yet clearly from the hyperbole surrounding this event we all care, passionately about our children’s education.)

Natalie has right to voice but the student’s would have been better served had she not laid the blame on them. She may have served cause better had she posed the question, “Why am I not able to motivate, engage the student’s? What are the obstacles? How can I design my instructions to facilitate accountable?’’ Etc. So she set off smoke bombs when what are needed are fireworks and a whole parade.

In my years as a teacher I often felt shackled to a covert silence. If you say anything, look with too much scrutiny you may violate the sacrosanct system of school or union. We are a family. We do not take our business to the streets. Weird message when our purpose is to serve the intellectual, academic and citizenship needs of our student’s.

Natalie is bold in honesty but not in integrity. We teachers must be bolder, braver. We must begin to speak in volume, resolutely to the Dark Ages of education. Too often we have turned our vision askance and silenced our tongue to a system that does not always serve students. School organizations are often paternalistic and have a system of cronyism best reward those who do not dissent. We may not ask too much or illustrate too much.
The paradigm must change. We must scrutinize education and the systems charged with this great goal. We must stop assigning blame, on families, the unions, teacher, to the student’s. We must dig deep. We must seek outside the box. We must probe deeply the structure and organization. We must look to the system in the same probing way we do at the CEOs of failing companies. How does the organizational structure affect employees, influence students performance etc.

We must design for learning, equality. We must equate funding with civil liberties and assure that equal monies and time be spent with and for all student’s.

We must ask thousands of questions about structural inequities. Communication with families and communities must bridge the school experience to the greater world. We must tend to the disconnect. Learning is not something that begins when the bell rings, it begins at birth. Those we have rendered powerless must have voice to their vision and dream.

Teachers are called. We have a vocation. Our expertise and commitment must be solicited on behalf of the organization and those we serve. Our training in the essential skill set of technological literacy should be the cornerstone. We must stretch our thinking.

When Natalie bellowed her angst perhaps this was our call to action. This is not a time for polarized, politicized posturing. Now is the time to adapt and revision.

It is an emergency…we must react to this eminent disaster…

Let us all exercise our right to free speech. May we speak resolutely on behalf of children?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Truth Rings

On February fourteenth 2011 I was proposed to. A banner day on a banner day. The proposal of marriage, an antidote to having been scathed by divorce and the disarming event of looking for love in the cyber age.

He held my eyes with his, his speckled brown’s looking lucid.

He locked his look into mine. Steading his ambly gait, he pulled up the slipping strap of his denim coveralls and asked,“Will you marry me?’ He peered intently. My response his mirror.

Looking like ET, he just stared at me. I from a realm alien to him.

I looked to his button eyes, holding his fate with my response. This moment somehow altering my destiny. “Why I believe you are the best offer I’ve had in years.” He handed me the plastic heart shaped ring that had minutes before embellished the holiday cupcake. He had sucked the gooey pink frosting off to clean sparkly trinket. I held the too small ring to my heart. We were sealed.

He knew in that moment that in spite of his age (11), diagnoses, frequent hospitalizations, and the contemporty art wiring of his brain love prevailed. He was loved and loveable. Most important was his tin man heart. He could love. He did love.

Bursting from him that Valentine Day, (not Cupid’s arrow, or the muse Venus) was the sweet beat of his own heart, palpitating for others. He knew that in spite of being erratically compelled by demonic thoughts and behaviors, light and love dwelled in his heart. (Perhaps he could grow it bigger and bigger till it reigned and edged out the darkness.) .

And me, I the tin man as well. I feared I had a hollow heart. I can get stuck on the love channel, that staticy place that whines about others failures. I stockpile till my heart becomes heavy. The silent phone, the empty email in-box my mirrors, measurement of my worth.

But in my years of teaching on that day of love the kids always got it. Children too young, to harden up their heart and stockpile their hurts became love’s gurus. With every candy heart, every block print uppercased “ I LOVE YOU”, they practiced love like sacrament.

They loved unabashedly, expressively, and expansively. Little fingers stuffing cards in envelopes, doilies, and glitter melty hearts, mushy chocolate. The greatest commandment of all “Is love”…. So my plastic bauble will forever sit among my gilded treasures.

On Valentines Day my betrothed and all the students I ever had “got it”. They lived on the love channel and sprinkled love about like an ever-flowing font, not seeking anything in return but just the right to say, “I love you”.

As brown-eyed boy (Mr. Coveralls) handed me his most prized possession, asked me to marry him, and told me he loved me, my teacher brain briefly took over. But who am I to bolt the door to hope. I said simply “ I love you too”. (and always shall as you gave me the lesson in love, and you young man were the teacher of that curriculum.)